Terminal Server Hardware Requirements and Load Balancing

Hi all,

I am seeking some guidance on the design of a terminal server/thin client environment.

I have a site with 35 users and we are looking at implementing a terminal server/thin client environment. The terminal servers I have implemented in the past have maxed out at around 20 users logged on at any one time, so we have only ever needed a single Windows 2003 terminal server with Dual Xeons, 15k SCSI HDDs, 3 to 4 GB RAM etc. However this site will have 35 users logged in and working all day long, so I am concerned that this will be nowhere near enough.

What would be the ideal hardware scenario for 35 users in a completely thin environment? Do you think I should go with a single terminal server that has more power than what I have been used to installing? If so, what hardware specs would you recommend? Otherwise, would I be better off implementing two terminal servers similiar to what I have used in the past, with some sort of load balancing? If so, becuase I am new to load balancing terminal servers, is there 3rd party software that I need to look at to handle this, or does the Microsoft Server system handle all of this? If you steer me in the right direction, I can do the all the required research.

I would appreciate any assistance anyone can give.

Thanks
PeteJHAsked:
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Who knows.   You haven't given any information on what the users will be doing.  If they are all only running notepad, then 35 on one dual xeon with 4 GB of RAM would probably be enough.  But if they are running photoshop and Excel spreadsheets, then the CPU/RAM usage is going to be significantly more.

You would probably be better off reading information on Terminal Server Capacity planning and Sizing.  For example:
http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=A2AE95DA-BE56-4495-9FB5-E4B7170B33D9&displaylang=en
http://download.microsoft.com/download/5/d/6/5d6eaf2b-7ddf-476b-93dc-7cf0072878e6/TermServe-Size.doc
http://technet2.microsoft.com/windowsserver/en/library/cb201937-8f68-4d0f-9521-99e090ddd6b11033.mspx?mfr=true

I would submit to you that a single server, properly configured, could still handle 35 users easily - for MOST applications.  But you would be well advised getting a system capable of dual Quad Core CPUs and 16 GB of RAM or more and running Windows Server 2003 64 bit.
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PeteJHAuthor Commented:
Hi leew.

Thanks for your response. Sorry for not giving you enough information!

The use of the terminal server will be as follows:
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PeteJHAuthor Commented:
Hi leew.

Sorry about that. Accidently hit submit.  The terminal server will host full desktops (we are going to use proper thin client terminals) with main applications including:

MYOB Accountants Office
MS Office 2003 - In particular Word, Excel & Outlook.
Internet Explorer
Various MYOB and Quickbooks programs (they use these to view customer's accounting data files).

The Accountants Office application uses a foxpro database. For speed, I was considering placing the data for this application on the terminal server also (it runs very slow over the network). I have done this for the same application on another client's site with a terminal server and it works fine.

I will read the arcticles that you mentioned, but if you could also give me your recommendation based on the limited info that I have given you, that would be fantastic.

Thanks again.
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
I'm not familiar with the MYOB package, so I don't know it's memory utilization.  This is where proper sizing comes in.

Off hand, I would say allow 192 MB RAM per user.  So that would be 7 GB of RAM.  Round up and make it 8 GB, allowing about 1.25 for the OS and a little extra breathing room.  Start out with a single quad core CPU but make sure the system can have a second so if it turns out to be underpowered, all you need do is buy another CPU and install it.
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
For example, a Dell PowerEdge 2950 will support up to 32 GB of RAM and dual Quad Core processors.
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politicalfusionCommented:
most copies of server will only recognize 4 gb of ram?
we run a terminal server farm and with 20 concurrent users we run into the same problems you mentioned with performance. our solution has been to split the load and manually assign users to one or the other servers. if they need to access common data, this won't work - obviously.
i'd like to know which os you are running. is it server 2003 r2 standard (the one i am most familiar with?)
another thing we have noticed with most of our clients running an enterprise software solution. typically, the program itself starts to get bogged down with that many users (ie - the app itself can only run so fast)
i'd like to look at dfs (namespace and replication) in 2003 r2 as a solution. running 2 machines to provide additional protection for your network. you can start here:
http://technet2.microsoft.com/WindowsServer/en/library/d3afe6ee-3083-4950-a093-8ab748651b761033.mspx?mfr=true
there's also a neat little video if you want to watch that (less intense on the brain cells):
http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2003/evaluation/demos/default.mspx
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Apparently politicalfusion is not reading my comments.  As I said, use 64 bit version of Windows - 64 bit versions of windows are not limited to 4 GB of RAM.
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politicalfusionCommented:
sorry lee,
obviously there are several versions of windows supporting more than 4gb of ram, and it's probable that the author has a choice of operating system. i mostly was trying to extract which os he is using or intending to use, and i apologize that it came off as an attack against you.
i respect your rank and have relied on your solutions in many other posts in the past. thank you and i'm sorry for the implication.
returning to the question, we have some applications that won't work with sbs for instance, and i've had driver/app issues with 64 bit. i am still interested in knowing what os the author is intending to work with and in exploring a two server environment with failover using dfs. i admit freely that this is a solution i am experimenting with myself and want to see if its application can be expanded to other environments. we use dell 1750's coming off lease and can get a 2u, 2 server solution up and running for less than $3,000, with big, fast drives, 2 x3gh xeons, with happy users that aren't overtaxing either system, have access to common data, failover protection, and don't take up much rack space (if that is even an issue). again, we rarely see this taxing the server so much as it taxes the app - though i have a mortgage company where the app goes bad and then starts overtaxing the server. the 2 server solution seems to make everyone happy. i have no idea if that will work for the author, but believe this may be a solution worth exploring.
again, i apologize and look forward to working with you and relying on your advice in the future.
thank you all,
politicalfusion
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PeteJHAuthor Commented:
Hi leew and politicalfusion,

I have decided to go with a single server solution for my client. I have gone this way because the database for their main accounting application will also be on the terminal server to improve speed (it uses foxpro and is horrendously slow over a network). If I had a two server solution, I would have to put the foxpro database on one of the terminal servers which would result in a difference in performance between the servers (unless the dfs that you are suggesting also works for databases?).

Here are the basic specs of the single terminal server that I am looking at using:

- Intel Server Motherboard S5000PSLSAS
- 2 x Intel Xeon X5355 2.66Ghz Passive (Quad Core)
- 4 x 2Gb DDR-II 667MHz ECC RAM
- 4 x Hitachi SAS 73Gb 15k HDD (2 RAID 1 Arrays - one for OS and APPs, the other for Page File and Accounting database).
- Intel Server Chassis with dual redundant PSUs
- Windows 2003 Server Enterprise Edition 64-bit

I would appreciate some comments on the hardware I have chosen.

Thanks for all the assistance so far.
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politicalfusionCommented:
hi PeteJH,
as long as it doesn't run on msde, i know of no inherent limitations affecting user capacity at those numbers.
no, dfs replication is not recommended for databases. microsoft says "Because DFS Replication only replicates a file after it is closed, DFS Replication is not recommended for replicating database files or any files that are held open for long periods of time."

and is what i referred to above when talking about a need to access common data. we have one client, however, where the two branch offices did not need to be in synch all day long and where the app was based on msde. for them, dfs is a great tool. the database changes occur over night.
as for the server hardware, it's screaming and looks fine to me, though i'm not an expert on burned in compatability of your configuration. i admit to being a dell acolyte for that reason alone. they seem to have extremely well tested configurations, though i'm sure someone's mileage has varied. and i like their tech support as long as it is silver 2 or better - particularly since they will also support the os, etc. i've definitely used that in the past and gotten my money's worth and then some. they have some smart people working there.
anyway, good luck and have fun.
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
From the sounds of things, you're making a mistake.  The raw hardware is fine (though you're probably going overkill with the DUAL Quad Core processors to start), but isn't this a vital component of your business?  What happens if you have a problem?  Who are you going to call when something doesn't work right?  Do you like being bounced around and told 'call the other guy'?  What happens if you have a part fail - like the mainboard.  Do you want to be down for 2+ days while you wait for a replacement part?  How much would that cost the company in lost productivity and possibly sales if the database were otherwise inaccessible to the majority of your users?

Building whitebox systems is fine for workstations - they affect ONE person at a time.  But this server will be affecting AT LEAST 35.  I would consider it unwise unless you plan on buying two of everything (except maybe the case) so you can swap out components in the event of a failure.  Instead, I would strongly recommend purchasing from a major vendor - Dell, HP, IBM - and making sure you get a 3 year warranty and 7x24x4 hour response support.  This adds the benefit of being able to call ONE company to resolve the issue and they can't 'blame the other guy'.  In addition, parts replacements can be done within 5 or 6 hours most of the time, including phone troubleshooting time.
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PeteJHAuthor Commented:
Thanks for your advice. We are not building the servers ourselves. Although we are not going with a tier 1 company (eg HP, Dell etc), we have a large national company that we purchase all of our servers through and get fantastic support.

Thanks for all your help. Also thanks to political fusion for all of your comments.
 
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thelandofsmegCommented:
Accountants Office does not support 64-bit, I have only seen limited success so far.
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